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Blu-ray Review: A Bay Of Blood (UK Release)

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Every enthusiast of the legacy that the Italian cult film industry has bestowed upon us has his or her favorite director, albeit for entirely different reasons. Some prefer the keen sense of style that Dario Argento’s earlier works possessed over the relatively superficial (but still damn good) contributions to Euro cinema from someone like Joe D’Amato — to say nothing of the mind-blowing ditties that Antonio Margheriti thrust upon us all! Like the many great painters and sculptors that preceded moviemaking auteurs such as Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino, each of these cinematic artists went through their own particular “periods.” Just like Spanish painter Pablo Picasso had his famous Blue Period, Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato had their infamous cannibal periods.

Yes, kids, I just compared the classic artists of Europe to a bunch of Italian exploitation movie directors.

But, as it is with any form of art, there’s always a pioneer in the program. Much like the great Michelangelo influenced so many other artists of the Renaissance and beyond, the celebrated Mario Bava helped to inspire almost every Italian director that has ever dabbled in the world of science fiction or horror. But the gruesome visionary tactics that Bava often employed in his bloodier movies didn’t inspire only Italian filmmakers: the Americans also took note of his work. And one of the greatest examples of “uncredited homages” to ever transpire from an Italian giallo film to an American slasher flick would be an unforgettable moment from his 1971 black comedy, A Bay Of Blood (Reazione A Catena), wherein a couple involved in the ol’ horizontal mambo are penetrated by a spear.

Sound familiar? Well, it should, since the same thing happened ten years later in Friday The 13th Part II when Jason Voorhees killed two naughty teens who started makin’ the sex! But that wasn’t the only scene from Mario Bava’s A Bay Of Blood that wound up in the faltered slasher sequel: in both film, a poor actor receives a forceful machete implant directly in the face.

While it might not be the greatest work he ever made, Mario Bava certainly caused a lot of encouragement among other filmmakers for the less-than-moderately-budgeted A Bay Of Blood alone — despite being a box-office failure and the subject of many a scrutiny by morally-obliged critics and audiences alike. That didn’t stop the movie from playing, though: it was so favored by drive-in/grindhouse distributors that they frequently retitled and re-released it on their respective circuits under titles like Twitch Of The Death Nerve, Carnage, and the oh-so-campy The Last House On The Left, Part II! Years later, after cult movies became trendy and cult film historians came into play, people began to catch Bava Fever — and A Bay Of Blood (or whatever you may know it as) wound up becoming a classic for the usual amount of ingenious movie tricks Mario is so well-known for to this day, as well as its deliberately insane story.

The premise here is so simple, it hurts. The rich, elderly and wheelchair-bound Countess Federica (Isa Miranda) is brutally murdered at the very beginning of the film — at the hands of her own husband. Immediately after the uxoricide has come to a close, however, the seemingly-would-be wealthy widowed man receives a calling to the world beyond from another (unidentified) assailant. From there on in, nearly everybody that so much as steps foot onto the property wherein the Federica bayside mansion is situated is almost immediately dispatched in a new and entirely gruesome method by persons or persons unknown. The killing continues, even after the film’s top-billed characters — Thunderball’s own Claudine Auger and spaghetti western regular Luigi Pistilli — show up to try to inherit their estate. The slaughter continues still, right up until the film’s bloodily ironic, completely wacky and truly unforeseeable conclusion.

Believe it or not, there actually is a moral of the story, kids. Author Tim Lucas theorizes in his audio commentary for the film: “…the film essentially proposes that Nature would be much better off if Man wasn’t around to meddle in it…” (which he brings up whilst mentioning the film’s Italian (sub)title(s), Ecologica Del Delitto, or “The Ecology Of Murder”).

The staple of many a budget VHS video label in the ‘80s in the US (while being banned as a dreaded “video nasty” in the UK), A Bay Of Blood has received several DVD releases in the past via US distributors Simitar (1999) Image Entertainment (2001) and Anchor Bay via the wonderful box set, The Mario Bava Collection, Volume 2 (2007). While the latter digital issues managed to top the grainy old pan-and-scan analog ones, the folks at the UK-based group Arrow Entertainment have once again guided another truly memorable Italian horror movie into the High-Def arena — and their Region Free (yay!) Blu-ray release of A Bay Of Blood features the English-language export version of the cult classic, as well as the original Italian-language version of the film (the latter of which is not presented in HD, just so you know).

Arrow’s single-disc Blu-ray release presents the English-language export version of the film in a slick 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC widescreen transfer. The print is clearer than ever, with a very striking (if slightly-muted) color palette — all the better for displaying the movie’s many gory highlights — and crisp contrast throughout. Put simply: A Bay Of Blood has never looked better! With all of these older flicks receiving newly-mixed 5.1 DTS audio soundtracks nowadays, it’s a bit odd to see that the only complementing audio track for the main HD version of the film is the original English Mono one. While great for purists, most tech-savvy A/V geeks may find themselves a bit disenchanted with this audio selection, as they will have to pump up the volume in order to hear it. Optional English subtitles accompany the main feature.

As always, Arrow Entertainment has assembled an impressive assortment of spectacular special features. First off is the Italian-language version of the film (clocking in at 84:53), which is less stellar-looking than the HD English-language cut (which clocks in at 84:02), but worthwhile if you’re a bit of a perfectionist since all of the scenes containing dialogue were filmed simultaneously in both Italian and (phonetic) English (the latter of which was looped in post-production for the export version). A couple of other bonus materials have been seen before, such as the aforementioned audio commentary with Video Watchdog guru/Bava biographer Tim Lucas, and a couple of radio spots, have been carried over from the 2007 Anchor Bay box set.

Another item, a trailer for the film under the title Carnage, was also seen on the Anchor Bay release, although its inclusion here for Arrow’s release is both introduced and narrated by British filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World) and is also available at Trailers From Hell. A second Wright-hosted preview for the same film — this time under the classic Twitch Of The Death Nerve title — also hails from the Trailers From Hell website, and has been added to this release. While Wright is spot-on with why he loves these trailers, it’s a bit of a pity that neither trailer is presented here without his commentary (although you do get to catch bits and pieces of them without Mr. Wright during the disc’s featurettes, which are discussed below).

Three incredible featurettes (in HD 1080p) are new to home video, and have been produced by the genre-devotees at High Rising Productions for this release. In the first featurette — “Argento! Bava! Fulci! The Giallo Gems Of Dardano Sacchetti” (33:09) — giallo screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti discusses his work with three of Italy’s most famed directors. American filmmaker (and grindhouse aficionado) Joe Dante is interviewed for the second featurette entitled “Bava And The Grindhouse: Joe Dante Remembers Twitch Of The Death Nerve” (12:24). Dante, director of such favorites as Gremlins and InnerSpace, discusses how the movie — along with many of Bava’s other films — greatly appealed to grindhouse audiences and went on to inspire him in his own work.

Lastly in the newly-produced extras, we sit down to have a chat with cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia for “Bay Of Bava: Shooting A Spaghetti Classic” (21:16), who recollects working with both Mario Bava and his son Lamberto (director of Demons), as well as the cast. All three featurettes include clips from other releases, and the first and third interviews are in Italian with English subtitles. Two Easter Eggs (hidden goodies) can also be found with this release by going to the scene selection menu (via the main menu) and scrolling up from the first selection (to which you’ll be treated to two alternate opening credits, both of which have been culled from British and German VHS releases).

Like the rest of Arrow Entertainment’s wonderful Blu-ray releases, A Bay Of Blood features multiple artwork options with original and newly-commissioned material, a double-sided fold-out poster, and a Collector’s Booklet by critic and Eaten Alive author, Jay Slater.

In short: between this new release of A Bay Of Blood and their past Blu-ray releases for several other cult classics, Arrow Entertainment definitely earns my vote for being the best genre-specific video distributor for the High-Def age. If you’re a Bava fan, you’ll most assuredly want this release to be in your collection.

I wonder what the odds are of Arrow Entertainment picking up the rights for my all-time favorite Bava film, Planet Of The Vampires…?

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.